The two of them talked the whole time that Fernando drove towards the mountain that overlooked the city of Monterrey Mexico. Fernando's english was perfect, on par with hers, so it came as no surprise when he revealed that his mother was actually an American who had moved to Mexico twenty-five years earlier. As he drove, Fernando's brown hair fluttered in the breeze coming through the open car window. The air conditioner wasn't on, and despite her efforts to lean forward a little, Angela's shirt began to stick to the car seat with the bit of sweat on her lower back.

Just when she thought they had run out of things to talk about, Fernando ran his fingers through his hair and asked her, "So, what is your philosophy? I mean, are you left or right, socialist or capitalist, biblical or evolutionary?" He asked as if he was asking her something as simple as her shoe size or her favorite letter of the alphabet.

"Actually, philosophy doesn't really interest me," she confessed. "All of it smacks of being rather pseudo-intellectual. A lot of rationalizing in defense of popular positions that were established quite a long time ago. I mean what is there to talk about that wasn't already said thousands of years ago by Plato? None of it really matters much in terms of the real world. What can I say except that I and everyone else on this planet adhere to the philosophy of survival, and that we want nothing more than a hot meal and a warm bed, regardless of the means necessary to ensure those luxuries. Oh, and I always forget about love. We want someone to love us, but I would hardly call that a philosophy." Angela had shifted around sideways in her seat so that she could better gage Fernando's response to all this. He seemed unfazed.

"You are trying to downplay the importance of philosophy in today's society," he remarked, "but truly it is philosophy that is the foundation of everything else. That which is not a direct offshoot of philosophy as exhibited in conscious thought and action is then a result of God's philosophy as evidenced in the order of all matter and void, every rock, tree and animal that exists or has existed or is yet to exist."

Angela grimaced. "Thank you for that. If there's one thing I hate more than philosophy, it's religion. You can go ahead and pull the car over here. Don't worry about me, I'll find my own way back to the bus station." She turned towards the car door and started mimicking gestures of trying to escape by clawing at the door handle and trying to climb out of the window.

"Here, I'll make it easy for you," said Fernando, pulling over to the curb. "But I think I should warn you that you will want to hear the things that I have to say, and I would like to warn you that I would like to hear the things that you will have to say about what I have said. So what do you say?"

Angela stopped playing with the door and motioned for the driver to continue down the street. "Hey, you should be more worried about me escaping. Keep this car moving or else I may very well change my mind about you for real. Your silver tongue can't keep me here forever. At some point we are going to part ways, and then you will be sorry you didn't keep a firmer grip." She looked at Fernando's smiling face, knowing full well she wasn't about to leave anytime soon. Something about him made her completely at ease; she had never felt so comfortable with another human being. She felt as though she could say anything to him, and he would appreciate it if only because it came from her. It was strange, considering she had known him only for a very short time. Thinking this, she suddenly wanted to capture a mental picture of the emotion of this moment, something she could hold onto long after it was all over. In her mind she wanted this car ride to last like this forever, the road to the mountain stretching out infinitely in front of them, their whole future ahead in the distance, waiting for them to arrive. For nothing to change, that was what she wanted. She felt perfectly happy.

"Despite my comment about God," continued Fernando, "I am not a religious man, at least not in any organized sense. Like most Mexicans, I feel connected to the earth and the ancient traditions of the first Mexicans, those that the Spanish called the Aztecs, but who called themselves Mexican."

"Oh, great," laughed Angela. "Now you're going to sacrifice me to some Aztec Calendar God. I'll bet there's some kind of ritualistic temple on this mountain where the ceremonial Alter of Sacrifice sits. Am I right?" She imagined herself flung down into some kind of fiery pit as Fernando, dressed in traditional Aztec fashion, laughed maniacally. The idea actually appealed to her in some strange, masochistic way. Well, maybe not the part about getting burned.

"Hmmmm...I guess it's my turn to threaten to call this thing off. I would have hoped that an intelligent woman such as yourself would not so easily subscribe to such obvious stereotypes." Fernando made an exaggerated pantomime of trying to exit the car and still drive it at the same time. "But in the meantime, let's get back to philosophy."

"No," said Angela, smiling. "No back, only forwards with us, forward into the unknown." The car started to climb the edge of the mountain, the two passengers suddenly quiet for a few moments. But only a few.

"If there is no God," said Fernando, "and if there is no philosophy, then what is the meaning of life? I have a feeling that you can help me with this question, so I am sitting over here in the left side of the car anxiously awaiting your response. No pressure, just take your time. You know where to find me." With that he straightened his body that had been half-turned towards her and faced the wheel with hands at two and ten and newfound determination, as if he felt it was going to take her a while to compose her thoughts. But he betrayed his own stance when he couldn't help but glance over at her after a few seconds, wondering why she hadn't immediately come back at him with a quick smart-assed retort.

Angela was looking at him funny, as if no one had ever actually asked her that before. As if she hadn't even asked herself that before. Very quickly he realized that he had read her wrong and as soon as she spoke he saw that her look was not one of surprise, but rather a look of reluctance, that she really did know the answer, but she thought it might be better to shield him from the dangerous truth.

"The meaning of life? I'm sure you are expecting some kind of flippant response, but instead I'll tell you what I really think." Angela settled back into her seat and looked straight ahead at the climbing mountain road. "The meaning of life is pain. For you, everything comes forth from philosophy but in my world, all good and beauty in the world comes from pain. All pleasure comes from pain, but somehow even in the pleasure the pain remains, perhaps more distant at first, but the pain returns in full inevitably and then it is the pleasure that recedes completely. In fact, there is always pain, whether or not part of its energy is being tapped to create something else. More often than not, pain gives birth -- not to art or happiness or some betterment of the world -- but rather to only more pain. That's your meaning of life in one word. Pain."

Well, he had to admit it was a little sexier than other meanings of life he had heard. "Forty-two" was the one that most readily came to mind. He thought a little while about what she said, and when it looked like he was about to say something, he instead drove off the side of the road. Angela normally wouldn't have been worried about this development, except for the fact that they were actually quite a ways up the mountain at this point and the side of the road that Fernando was driving off was the side of the cliff and the straight drop below. Then she realized he was pulling into a hidden overlook where a couple of other cars were parked with a small group of people looking out at the city below. He rolled to a stop and turned the key, "Let's see how painful this is, hmmm?"

They got out and walked out in front of the car. Stretched out in front of them was the city of Monterrey, and Angela saw now that there was a mountain on the other side of the city as well. "I was kind of hoping you were taking me to the other side. The view's better from there, I've heard."

"It's all part of the plan, my dear," said Fernando. "When I'm done with you, you will have seen all of Monterrey...and I will have seen all of you." Sensing her mouth was just about to snap open, he quickly added, "For purely medical purposes, of course. Here, have a seat." He took her hand and pulled her, a little resistant, down into a seating position on the ground near the edge of the cliff. He kept ahold of her hand, but he looked over at the city, with such obvious wonder that one would think this was his first time up here. In his mind, though, he was not seeing the city at all but instead feeling her hand still in his. He was concentrating so as to fully remember this moment, preparing for the not-to-distant future when he would be forced to let it go.

She did not know what to say at first, here on the cliff with the man she had only just met, but when she did think of something, he turned and covered her mouth with his own, and as she in turn pressed him backwards with her own desire, lips still embraced, she completely forgot what it was she was going to say.

Chapter 16


Chapter 15 was first written November 22, 2001

It was last edited December 20, 2001